For the most efficient bridesmaid dress-shopping experience, a bride should make up her mind first.
No two bridal parties are the same. Whether you have a petite maid of honor and super-tall bridesmaids or a range of personalities, finding the right bridesmaid dress is a unique challenge for each bride. But with some preparation, you can find the perfect dresses for your big day while appealing to everyone in your party.
Typically, brides select their wedding venue and theme and find their own dress before looking at bridesmaid options. Knowing these details beforehand gives you a starting point for choosing a dress that vibes with your wedding's style.
"You may love a short, strapless chiffon dress, but you may also be getting married in December in a cathedral wedding," says Ashley Tengler of David's Bridal at Easton. "And a long satin dress would be more appropriate."
Browsing wedding sites like Pinterest and Style Me Pretty may be helpful sources of inspiration. But Joan Madison, owner of Joan's Bridal Couture in Reynoldsburg, says brides shouldn't feel like they have to know exactly what they want before coming into her shop-she and her team are the experts, she says, and they often know what's best.
"It can be overwhelming with all of the information out there," Madison says. Instead, make note of elements of dresses, colors or styles that catch your eye-this will help your bridal shop consultant point you in the right direction.
Lil Stalnaker of Wendy's Bridal in Dublin suggests using local resources like Columbus Bride when looking for ideas. Seeing pictures of real brides and weddings at the venue you've chosen may give you some ideas about what you like-and what you don't like.
Playing with colors can also help you get some ideas, adds Tengler, who notes David's Bridal sells individual fabric swatches. She recommends choosing some swatches you like and taking them to craft stores to pair with flowers and decor. "Some girls do their flowers first, and then they pick out their bridesmaids' dresses," she says. "We've had girls bring in bouquets of flowers they've made."
The fun part is, of course, dress-shopping day. You should start looking for bridesmaid dresses six to eight months before the wedding to allow time for the dresses to be ordered, delivered and altered; alterations can often take four to six weeks. It's also important to think about who should come to that first appointment.
"Sometimes the bride wants to come in by herself … especially if she has a party of 10, because 10 opinions plus your own opinion makes it very difficult to appease everyone," Tengler says. "I think it's a lot easier when the bride comes in with one or two bridesmaids. It's just so hard to please everyone when you give them all the option."
Stalnaker recommends bringing only the maid of honor to the first appointment. "When you bring a party of six girls and there's a room full of 400 dresses, you won't even know where to start," she says. "Every party has to have a chief, and that's the bride. She needs to do the narrowing process."
One way to accommodate each member of the bridal party is by choosing a color and then allowing them to pick different dress styles, which is a popular trend.
"Some girls do it because they feel like not everyone's going to look good in one style, but a lot of girls like to have variety, too," Stalnaker says.
Equally as important as finding the right style is finding the right color. "A lot of the time, I think brides choose the color that's her favorite … which isn't necessarily complementary," Tengler says. "Since those colors will be surrounding you, I think it's important to think about what makes you look best." If you're unsure which colors best complement your complexion, Tengler recommends consulting a makeup artist to find colors that brighten you.
As for spring and summer color trends, Tengler, who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, says bright colors, pastels, metallics and earth tones are big for the first half of 2014.
"Spring and summer are going to be all about the bright colors, like always," she says. "But it's also going to be about different shades of the basic colors." Petal pink, coral, mint, navy and champagne are among the most popular shades.
As for style, short dresses, straps, chiffon and lace are also on-trend. "I think bridesmaids are starting to get away from the basic strapless," Tengler says. "One-shoulder dresses are going to make a comeback for sure."
Once you've found the perfect dress or dresses, Tengler says it's a good idea to set a deadline for ordering them-this will eliminate the risk of a style or color being discontinued before your maids place their orders. "As soon as you're confident, get that dress," she says. "You never know when it's going to go."If You're Wearing This, They're Wearing That
You've already found your perfect gown, but don't know where to start with your maids' dresses. Not to worry-local bridal experts have advice for complementary looks.
"If you base your whole look off of one thing, the best thing to start with is your dress," says Lil Stalnaker of Wendy's Bridal. Ashley Tengler of David's Bridal says fabric is particularly important when choosing complementary looks.
"If the bride has a very elegant cathedral dress that's in a very heavy satin, I'm not sure that a short, summery chiffon dress is going to go well with that," Tengler says. "If a bride has chiffon, the bridesmaids tend to go for chiffon as well. A taffeta looks really good with cotton dresses. And then if you're doing a heavy satin, I think it's best for the bridesmaids to be in satin, too."
Another element to consider is design detail. Stalnaker says to start with your favorite part of your own dress. Is it the sweetheart neckline? The keyhole back? The beading? Look for bridesmaid dresses that incorporate the same detail. "You don't want [the dresses] to be a mirror image of your own," says Joan Madison, owner of Joan's Bridal Couture. "But you can incorporate lace or gathered fabric, for example, if your gown has that."Looks for Every Body Type
Having a diverse bridal party can present a challenge when looking for dresses, but there are some styles that work for all shapes and sizes.
"Many brides are surprised that there are dresses that look good on every body type," says Lil Stalnaker of Wendy's Bridal. Local bridal experts recommend dresses with gathered fabric around the waistline that creates a flowy skirt and is forgiving on any body shape. "It shows a figure without hugging it too tightly," Stalnaker explains.
Another popular option is the sweetheart neckline. Ashley Tengler of David's Bridal says choosing a dress with a slightly higher sweetheart neckline will work for all members of the bridal party. "For girls with a bigger bust, it still covers them," she says. "And for girls who are a bit smaller, it still gives them the illusion of a bust."
A medium-length dress is a good idea for a bridal party of varying heights. "It's not so short that taller girls feel inappropriate, but it's just short enough that petite girls can wear it without a hem," Tengler says.